Adjectives are descriptive words that modify nouns, noun phrases, and pronouns. They describe the qualities of the word(s) they qualify. In the English example, “the gold headdress,” the adjective “gold” modifies the noun “headdress,” describing the quality of the headdress. The primary uses of adjectives in Middle Egyptian is as modifiers or as a nouns (yes, adjectives can also become nouns!). Below is a chart listing the adjective endings as well as an example.
|Adjective Endings Example|
In this example, the adjective nfr, “good, beautiful, perfect,” is used in every possible combination of number and gender. Only the ending changes–the base word nfr remains consistent.
It is important to note that the plural strokes, in the feminine plural form, are not always written. Instead the form may resemble the feminine singular adjective, even though the intended form is feminine and plural. The absence may be caused by any number of reasons, including lack of space or scribal preference. In these circumstances, it is important to consider the context in which the adjective is found in order to determine the best translation.
Adjectives as Modifiers
When adjectives are used as a modifier, the adjective will always follow the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase it modifies and they will share the same gender and number.
The adjective nb, “every, all,” is often confused with the noun for “lord, owner,” nb, as they appear identical. However, we can distinguish the adjective nb from its nominal (noun) counterpart by following the simple rule above: an adjectives follows the word it modifies. Lets look at a few examples:
Noun + Adjective
Noun + Noun
Noun + Adjective
nṯr nb “every god”
nb nṯrw “lord of the gods”
nṯr nfrw “perfect gods”
As you can see, when adjective nb is used to modify a noun, it follows the noun it modifies and agrees in number and gender. In the first example, nb follows nṯr and agrees in number and gender (singular, masculine), so the adjective nb is being used. This is the case for nṯrw nfrw as well. The adjective nfrw follows the noun it modifies (nṯr) and agrees with its number and gender (plural, masculine).
In the second example, nb precedes nṯrw, so it is the noun nb that is used. This construction is known as the direct genitive, which was touched on in Lesson 2. If you recall, the direct genitive does not require the two nouns to share the same gender or number, unlike the noun + adjective construction.
Adjectives as Nouns
Adjectives may also be used as nouns; however, identifying this use is usually problematic for beginners. Thankfully, when adjectives are used as nouns, they use the same endings as other nouns. In some cases, a determinative will follow the adjective-noun, in order to specify to whom or what the adjective is referring. Lets look at an example.
nḏs, “poor man”
In this example, the adjective nḏs, “poor, small” is followed by the seated man determinative. With the addition of this determinative, we should more precisely translate this as “poor man.” If the seated woman determinative followed the word, “poor woman” would be more appropriate.
A very common use of the adjective as a noun uses the feminine, singular gender and number. This use describes a “thing” as containing a certain quality. One often cited example is nfrt, “a good thing.” The book roll is commonly found as a determinative under these circumstances, but that is not always the case.
Now, because adjectives can function as nouns, we find these adjective-nouns constructions similar to those where we find nouns, such as direct genitives or in noun phrases. One such construction has been termed the nfr ḥr construction by Egyptologists. In this construction, the adjective assumes the form of a noun and forms a noun phrase with the noun is precedes. For example, lets look at two words this construction is named after, nfr and ḥr . Here, nfr is used as a noun “a good one” and precedes the noun ḥr “face.” So, a literal translation could be “a good one of face.” A more refined English translation would be “good of face” This type of construction is commonly found after a god, king, or person, in order to qualify the type of person they are or a specific skill set they possess.
Adjectives and Degrees of Comparison
Adjectives are also be used to show degrees of comparisons between to nouns (good, better, best). We have already seen the first degree, which is simply the adjective used as a modifier (good man).
In the comparative form (better, easier), the second degree of comparison, the preposition r of comparison, “with respect to” or “compared to,” is used to compare two nouns. The preposition is placed after the adjective and follows this basic format noun + adjective + r + noun. Lets look at an example:
ʿ3 ʿ3 r ʿ3 nb
“a donkey greater than every donkey,” or “a great donkey in comparison to every donkey.”
The superlative form of the adjective (best, easiest), the final degree of comparison, uses either the direct or indirect genitive. A common example showing the superlative form is wr wrw, “great one of great ones,” or “the greatest of all.” In this example, the direct genitive is used, with the adjectives wr and wrw being used as nouns; however, the same notion is expressed when the genitive n is placed in between wr and wrw.
The relative adjective is rarer early on in the study of Egyptian hieroglyphs, but it is still useful to be familiar with it. The following chart lists the different forms of the relative adjective.
These types of adjectives can be used as either a noun or a modifier. When it modifies something, the adjective will follow the word it modifies and will share the same number and gender. A bare bones translation would be “(modified word) who/which/that is X.” Lets look at an example:
s nty im
“the man who is there”
The noun s is masculine and singular, so it is followed by nty the masculine, singular relative adjective. Now, if we were to remove s, the result would be nty im . In this case, nty would function as a noun and the resulting translation would be “the one who is there.”
Lesson 5 Vocabulary and Exercises
ʿš3 “Many, numerous”
bnr “Sweet, pleasant”
ʿb3 or sḫm
sḏm or idn
Exercises: transliterate and translate
wsir nṯr ʿ3 nty m 3bḏw “Osiris, great god who is in Abydos.”
bit bnr wʿb ntt m pr nsw “Sweet and pure honey which is in the king’s house.”
ntk nṯr 3ḫ iqr n t3wy “You are a benificial and excellent god of the two lands.”
ḥf3w ʿš3(w) ntyw r-gs st tn “Many serpents which are beside this place.”